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Venice Faces UNESCO’s Endangered Site Listing Due to Climate Change

UNESCO Raises Concerns Over Venice’s Vulnerability

A Multifaceted Peril

The UNESCO, the esteemed United Nations agency safeguarding global cultural heritage, has announced its intention to propose Venice for inclusion in its list of culturally significant locations at risk of irreversible damage. The iconic Italian city finds itself grappling with a complex web of challenges, including climate change, unchecked tourism, and rapid urban development.

Insufficient Protective Measures

In a recently released document, the World Heritage Committee, a key division of UNESCO responsible for designating heritage sites, expressed dissatisfaction with the Italian government’s efforts to implement adequate protective measures for the ancient city. Despite previous calls for action, the committee contends that Venice’s delicate historical fabric remains inadequately safeguarded.

A view taken fon July 31, 2023 shows the construction site of the elevation of St. Mark's square against high water, expected to be completed by 2026, in Venice. Unesco is recommending that Venice be placed on the list of World Heritage in Danger, as "insufficient" measures have been taken to fight the deterioration of the site due in particular to mass tourism and climate change, according to a decision made public on July 31, 2023. UNESCO, the UN's cultural wing, put Venice on its heritage list in 1987 as an "extraordinary architectural masterpiece", but the body has warned of the need for a "more sustainable tourism management". (Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP) (Photo by ANDREA PATTARO/AFP via Getty Images)
A view taken fon July 31, 2023 shows the construction site of the elevation of St. Mark’s square against high water Courtesy: ANDREA PATTARO/AFP via Getty Images)

Persistent Advocacy for Sustainability

UNESCO has been a persistent advocate for the preservation of Venice’s unique cultural heritage. In 2021, the agency urged Italian policymakers to outline comprehensive strategies to ensure the city’s conservation. Former Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini emphasized the paramount importance of prioritizing Venice’s long-term sustainability.

Fragile Infrastructure under Environmental Scrutiny

The effects of climate change on Venice’s fragile infrastructure have drawn keen attention from climate science advocates. UNESCO’s warnings have echoed the concerns, and as early as 2019, the agency cautioned about the impact of cruise ships traversing Venice’s main lagoon, posing a threat to its underwater foundations.

Response and Interventions

Responding to UNESCO’s concerns, the Italian government took significant action in August 2021 by prohibiting large commercial vessels from entering the San Marco and Giudecca canals. This decision was a direct response to the agency’s alarms, showcasing a willingness to address the challenges head-on.

A photo taken on July 31, 2023, shows tourists taking a souvenir group photo at St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Courtesy: AFP

Balancing Economic Realities

Critics of UNESCO’s designations, including officials from Italy’s Ministry of Culture, underscore the role of tourism as a crucial economic lifeline for the city. While recognizing the significance of Venice’s cultural heritage, they contend that finding a balance between preservation and economic sustenance is essential.

Pending Decision and Collaborative Efforts

The impending recommendation, designed to stimulate proactive preservation endeavors for endangered cultural sites, awaits final confirmation. A decisive vote regarding Venice’s inclusion on the endangered list is slated for September, during a summit convened by the agency’s 21-member organizations in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Continuing Preservation Efforts

UNESCO underscores the imperative of ongoing maintenance of the protective sea walls, a measure enacted by Italian authorities following earlier warnings. Expressing their concern, UNESCO officials also highlight a lack of cooperation from the Italian cabinet overseeing culture in collaborating on initiatives aimed at mitigating the environmental damage to Venice’s intricate ecosystem.

As Venice’s fate hangs in the balance, the impending UNESCO recommendation brings renewed attention to the urgent need for a comprehensive and sustainable approach to safeguarding the city’s rich cultural tapestry. The global community will closely watch the outcome of the forthcoming vote, with hopes that Venice’s status as a cherished cultural gem can be preserved for generations to come.

Feature inage:A photo taken fon July 31, 2023 shows workers on the construction site of the elevation of St. Mark’s square against high water, expected to be completed by 2026, in Venice. Courtesy: AFP

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